HENRY VALENTINE 1996 on the Bill
Hames Show playing at Cheyenne Frontier Days, Wyoming
Please note that I had no idea who Mr
Valentine was when I began talking with him. To me he was a
kindly old gentleman who’d “been around” the carnival
business and was willing to share some of his stories and
knowledge with me. It didn’t take long for me to recognize
that Henry Valentine was extremely knowledgeable. Much
later, when I told others more knowledgeable about the
sideshow world about my meeting with Henry and gathering
from their excitement, did I truly comprehend who I had
interviewed was a legend.
As told to me sitting in a couple of
folding chairs amongst the cacophony of the Midway at the
Cheyenne Frontier Days where the Bill Hames Show was booked
“Somebody asked me what I like
about this business and I said it’s another way of making a
living to keep out of work. It’s also a business that they
don’t force you to retire.
When I was growing up, we were
taken to the carnival every time it came to town, and
naturally, we were taken to the sideshow.
I tell people, “I’m not a carne,
I’m a showman”. There’s Showmen Leagues all across America.
All of these organizations have drives for Cancers funds,
Christmas funds; where they take donations from the carnival
people and buy presents for the needy around the holidays.
I started out in 1939 and I
worked in the concessions. Then I transferred over to the
‘Monkey Show’. Back then, you had your different shows, like
your girl shows and your circus sideshows and your snake
shows and your athletic shows. They all had talkers out in
front of the shows except the Merry Go Round. A lot of
carnivals carried calliopes.
Some of the shows carried
someone who actually played it.
When I transferred off the
concessions into the monkey shows, I eventually learned how
to train monkeys. The fella that I worked for had the
monkeys that were Hollywood monkeys that had made movies. He
had a high diving monkey, and he had a monkey that walked on
stilts that was 25ft high. He had monkeys that did trapeze
high wire. They put on a regular show. I worked on that for
2 years. Then I was up for the army. I hadn’t passed the
physical and by then I had gotten married so I went back to
my wife’s home town and there, the Dodson's World Fairs Show
was playing. So I went to work on a ride.
There was an opening on the
circus sideshow for a ticket seller so I transferred over to
the circus sideshows. My wife traveled with me. That was my
first wife. I worked for that fella for 9 years. We
advertised 19 acts and not one of them was an illusion. They
were what we call ‘working acts’. We had sword swallowers,
fire eaters, knife throwers, and of course working around
the sideshow I learned to do most all of it.
worked around some of the most outstanding freaks in the
business. On that show (Dodson's World Fairs), we had
‘TamTam the Leopard Man’. He was a fellow out of Beaumont
Texas, and he got up one morning a noticed a white spot on
his hand and as time went by the white spots grew and they
appeared all over his body. The last time I saw him he was
75,76 years old and he was almost totally white. We had
‘Alzor the Turtle Girl’. She had 4 toes on one foot and one
on the other and 6 fingers on each hand, and they were
attached to her body. They were real short and she could
draw them up into her body like a Turtle and that’s the way
she got around, she walked on all fours- just like a
turtle. Then we had the Seal Girl-hands growing right out of
her shoulders but she did everything that anybody else could
do. And we had another one of Ripley’s Characters, that was
called a ‘Rubber Skinned Dog. A red boned hound that had
skin that hung down to the floor and you could stretch it
like rubber. And we had a very good magician. And a fellow
named ‘Bozo, the monkey Man’. He was a pinhead. He was black
and his arms were all deformed and he had about the
mentality of a 5 year old child. He had to have someone to
watch over him and care for him. He’d get up there on stage
and he’d holler, he’d eat glass, razor blades. Anything you
give him that was shinny, he’d eat. Cigarette butts, he was
quite a draw!.
I’m not a barker- I’m a talker-
a barker is just an old expression from way back yonder.
They don’t call them barkers, they called them talkers back
The country was in war- the
whole industry couldn’t get any help. I went to work in ‘42
as a ticket seller. In ‘43 I came back and the boss was the
one talking on the show cause we couldn’t get any workers
due to the war. One of the fellas made an ‘opening’, telling
the crowd what was in the show. He got the people up on the
bally platform. One time he just handed me the mic and told
me to talk.
In 1944 I came back out to the
show and they had a contest of all the different talkers. I
was considered to be one of the best sideshow talkers in the
business. That’s how I then made my living. I once talked so
hard at the Ohio State fair that up on the bally I got a
hernia. You really put everything into it. There isn’t a
person that stands out in the audience that I don’t stare
right at them. I was told that you couldn’t make other
people believe it if you couldn’t believe it yourself.
In 1950, I met Frank Lantini.
He had 3 legs and 24 toes. He used to kick around a football
with his 3rd leg. I was just interested in
different things like that ever since I can remember.
Also on the show was the
ossified man-Harry Lewis- he was slowly turning to stone.
That’s what they said-he
couldn’t move he couldn’t do anything. They had an alligator
skin woman. Henry Blasic was the pinhead. I got to be real
good friends with Frank- he didn’t get to finish the season.
They took him back to Fla. Where they performed surgery.
Between his right leg and his 3rd
leg, there was a little body and they had to remove this.
The way they explained this was that this body had died and
it was beginning to decay and poisoning his system so they
removed this extra body. When they removed it, he lost part
control of his 3rd leg like he had before. He
recovered and then decided to take out his own show and
asked me to work for him. We worked together for 4 years. He
was supposed to be triplets, he was also triple sexed- two
males and a female. He was very easy to get along and he was
married to a German and a real good cook. After 2 years he
went into Coney Island and I went with him and worked in the
big museum for one season.
In Coney Island, they had what
they call an annex attraction- they had this girl in her
40’s- her name was Mary Lewchinski but they called her
‘Serpentina the Serpent ‘. She had no bones in her body
except her skull. Any position you put her in she had to
stay in that position. Her legs were twisted around and she
had very short fingers. They carried her around in an old
fashion baby carriage. But here was a woman who never
frowned. She always had a smile on her face. She didn’t have
a rib cage. No vertebrae. Many people went to court to
block these folks and keep them from earning their living
exhibiting themselves. This is how they made their living,
and they lived very normal lives.
I belonged to the Gibtown
showman’s club. They used to have a seal boy, Johanne the
biking giant. Pricilla the monkey girl still lives there
that I know of. Dolly Regan, half lady, half baby, lived
I met Ward Hall back in the 40’s
on the Bailey Brothers Circus. He was working as a magician
and ventriloquist. Later on he got his own show. He’s always
building something bigger and better.
As I always say, there’s just as
many freaks that are born now as there was back in the old
days. But they’re kept in state hospitals, or they’re, well,
let me put it this way, some are disposed of at birth. It
got harder to get people that way because the state would
take care of them, I shouldn’t say the state, we (meaning
the tax payers) take care of them. Where back in the old
days, they were given a chance to work and go out and make a
living on their own. They were happier that way. And there
is some of the states that try to out law that. There were
some of them that went to court and they won the battle.
They were trying to deprive them of making a living. But now
most of them are all passed on and so you resort to the
museums to give the people some idea of what the world did
I saw the movie ‘Freaks’, ‘Being
Different”, and ‘I am not a Freak’. In the movie, ‘Being
Different’, they had a lot of the modern day freaks, and in
‘I am not a Freak’, some of the people who were born
different, but they were living a normal life, they weren’t
out on the road making a living.
I was working for a company that
was called ‘World Attractions Inc.”. They had big circus
sideshows. I was the manager of one of them. I was also the
manager of a big Illusion show. This was back in 1976,77.
They played the better fairs of the country, ‘hopscotching’,
around the country. Then they discontinued the sideshow and
turned it into a museum. I managed that until 9 years ago.
They wanted to sell it and I bought it.
I had my own sideshow for a few
years. Then gave it up to work in a factory where I met my
wife. We stayed there till all the kids were grown up. We
had 3 boys and 4 girls. I taught my middle boy to swallow
swords. He has 4 tattoo shops in Texas and he also has some
kind of a show he puts on called ‘The Bloodfest’. He’s into
the body piercing and they put on these shows where they
suspend from body parts. Everyone of my kids have been in
the business except the oldest.
It was so hard to get help for
the sideshows. Most shows now a days, have Illusions instead
The movie 'Freaks' was
made back in 35 or 36’. It was a very good movie up to a
certain point. I thought that it was wrong, because at the
end of the movie. The aerialist was turned into a freak, and
that was done, it was an illusion. And I thought that that
lowered the impact of the picture.
There’s been a lot of changes on
the modern carnival. They run it more like a business now
then it used to. I think that it’s taken the fun out of it.
I used to have fun. Lets put it this way, we were all like
one big happy family. We had picnics together. We had ball
games. On our days off we always found something to do. And
every week we would have a meeting that if anybody had any
problems they could discuss the problems. It was like one
big happy family. People didn’t move around like they do
Another thing about the business
that’s changed back when I first joined a show there was no
hydraulics- everything was man handled. Instead of the Merry
Go Round being on a trailer you had to put down ground
mounts, including the Ferris wheel. There’d be 3 regular men
and they hired green help to come in a set up and tear down.
Back then a ride man would draw $20 a week. Sometimes they’d
be paid in brass, which they could take to the cook house.
Every carnival used to have a big cook house, like a
restaurant, but you’d pay for that food with the brass.
When we played the Texas State
Fair. We played 16 days. we’d open at 7am in the morning and
close at 2am the next morning. And of course you’d have to
restock once you closed and so by the time you finished that
it’d be time to open up again. I went for 16 days and 16
nights without any sleep. For 2 dollars a day. I was given 2
15-minute breaks each day.
I don’t know, we seemed to all
enjoy the business back then.
And now, I don’t know, there’s
just something that’s different about it.
A visit with Henry Valentine
by Virginia Lee Hunter
1 Henry Valentine 1996
2 Henry's ID card from the
Dodson's World Fair Shows
3 Ray Cramer's Sideshow
Cliff and Mamie King
5 International Congress of
6 Kiddie Wheel
7 Eli Wheel